Shadows of Azuth.
The Storm's Call
This small book shall stand as an account of my journey, should anyone care to read such, and should I fall in that adventure it shall hopefully remain as testament to my intentions and my actions, to serve as written testimony, documenting my conduct and my thoughts to the last of my endeavours. My name is Mavoi Heartbearer, Warden of the Goliaths, and this is my story.
ONE: A CALL HEEDED
This story began in the main hall of Riatavin, a city I do not over care for but one which has been useful to me for some time now. My people are not known to favour settlements so large or so permanent in their standing, but as a lone man I have often had need of somewhere secure to lay my head. There have been no others to whom I could entrust the night’s watch while I slept, and while cities are often dark and miserable places, so far removed from the purity of the wild, they do provide a certain safety, if you can afford its price.
Riatavin is ruled by an elected council from among its most senior merchants, the people appointing three from their number to ensure order and good conduct within the city and to advance its political standing in the country as a whole. I admit, much of the intricacies of this are lost upon me. In my tribe, we were lead by our strongest warrior deemed to be of a certain age and experience, but he was advised most strictly by several of the tribe’s most learned, those most in-touch with the ways of nature and those most knowledgeable about all things with which we need concern ourselves. This worked for a band of our small numbers, with not even a hundred of us to care for and keep, but in a city with their gross populations the need for fewer hands at the wheel makes sense. If representatives from every group in the city all had a hand in charge it would be impossible to get anything done at all, though in my opinion the three merchants who stood before us that day left much to be desired in terms of leadership.
Faced with a problem of dragons, they had turned to a famed wizard to protect them. In return, the wizard required an item of great power through which he could amplify his own talents, and without which he likely lacked the strength to do the job in the first place. A reasonable trade, providing the wizard kept his end of the bargain, but the item in question, a Brand, will be difficult to acquire. For this the merchants sought to send champions, a group who could face the dangers entailed in finding this item and bringing it back safely, yet who also lacked any use for it themselves and so would not think to simply steal the Brand and leave the city to its fate. For such a task they needed people of strength and integrity, but rather than find such people from amongst the throng gathered there, they chose simply to trust to fate. I already feared I had stayed near this city too long, but for me this behaviour largely confirmed my course.
The first name to be pulled from the cauldron used for such things, was that of a dragonborn paladin of some small renown in the city. Yorroth Warbringer stood near the front of the gathered masses for this ceremony, and strode forward immediately on hearing his name. He looked a decent sort, in full plate mail shining above the plates of his own skin, a shield emblazoned with the symbol of Kord at his back. While I have never troubled myself with religion, my own path demanding another course, Kord was known as a god of the storms, and had earned a certain respect and courtesy among my people even though he drew no worship. Rare, to find a paladin of a god foreign to these lands, but he looked a worthy companion.
After that I needed no further encouragement. When the trio had laid out the task I had already thought to volunteer, merely waiting to see if they had a greater plan in store for deciding who should go, but on seeing their wayward strategy but also who had been recruited for it, I forced a path for myself through the crowd. While only average in height for my own people I still towered over every single person around me, even the dragonborn, and it was not difficult to gain a path to the front. I opened my mouth, intending to volunteer my services to the task, but was cut off by the merchants reading my name aloud as conscripted regardless. I laughed, and clapped a hand on Yorroth’s armoured shoulder as I joined him at the front of the hall.
“It seems fate has thrown us together,” I told him, chuckling at the irony of it all and waiting as the rest of the party were called out. An elf, his face lurking in the shadow of a deep cowl but with a huge greatsword slung across his back, and a tiefling, his eyes quickly assessing each of us in turn as though contemplating strategies and how best to use each of us. Of a room almost entirely filled with humans, the three merchants had somehow selected four strangers, all from different lands and all of different peoples. I stared at the trio, suspecting a fix to this ‘random’ conscription, but my attention was drawn by a dwarf. Marching forward with a slight swaying to his stride, and the smell of mead about his beard, he joined us at the front of the room, volunteering his services. The merchants tried to shoo him away, inexplicably intent on sending only the bare minimum after this supposedly only hope of the city.
By the markings on his face I took the dwarf for a shaman. Such mystics held places of high influence among my own people, and to see one here surprised me, and even more so as a dwarf. Still, he was eager and courteous, promising us his life and his services to the cause, and though the merchants sought to be rid of him both Yorroth and myself spoke up, our voices carrying weight appropriate to our vast size. Aeral, the elf, also spoke in favour of bringing him, though perhaps more as a distraction than a full partner in our endeavour, and only the tiefling, Karus, held his reservations. Spiting the merchants, we headed out for our task, bringing the dwarf with us anyway. I would not turn away willing hands from any task providing they could handle it, and behind my shield a shaman could be a great asset, so I would not see him left behind.
Heading out into the forest, Orik, our new dwarven companion, spotted a kobold in the trees. Daring an ambush, I called aloud for the lizardmen to come out where we could see them, and we soon found ourselves in the midst of a swarm of the creatures, stabbing and sniping at us as they darted around. Aeral, having been standing forwards searching for sign of the creatures Orik had spotted, was caught by their rapid assault, and went down in a hail of attacks. Yorroth waded in to save him, and Karus and I held the line, back to back against the creatures and dealing out whatever hits we could. As expected, Orik’s powers proved most useful, buoying our spirits and filling us with life time and again as we fought past the onslaught. Reawakened, Aeral dove forwards to avenge his earlier thrashing, drawing an enemy away while I crashed into the back of him and then darting off, taking down the kobold’s spellcaster with a lethal flurry from his huge sword. Spirits broken, the rest of the creatures scattered and ran for it, and we made camp for the night, shocked at how difficult it had been to fight them off. Those kobolds had been unusually organised, working in perfect tandem with each other to make it impossible to keep a bead on the same one for more than a few fleeting moments, dashing this way and that and continually stabbing with their tiny weapons. We talked long into that night, discussing tactics and each other’s abilities, to ensure that we could work together more effectively next time.
The next day, we reached our goal, a temple at the foot of some nearby mountains. Much too snowy for any but the hardiest of my people to live there, I had visited these foothills many times but had not come across this ruined temple before. Inside we found several hints towards dwarven construction, and robes for priests of Moradin, the dwarven god. We had been told that the temple was built to Azuth, the god of wizards, now dead, and I began to suspect that there was much more going on here than we knew. Either we had simply been given the wrong directions, or this was some kind of trick or wild goose chase to tell us one thing and then send us somewhere entirely different. We resolved to plough on, fighting our way through a host of goblins. The pathetic creatures shamed themselves at the mere sight of us, running, hiding and pleading as often as trying to fight. Such beings have their place only in the very darkest corners of the world, and we scrubbed them from the temple without a second’s hesitation.
At the end of a corridor, we found one final room filled with torture implements, a tiny, female kobold strapped to a bench being made to scream by her captors, a group of goblin bowmen lead by a single hobgoblin in armour stained a dark red. Striking quickly to cut off any escape, we swiftly surrounded the torturers, taking them down one by one. The hobgoblin’s armour held some powerful magic to it that let him withstand a hail of blows that would have felled far stronger men, before finally its power gave out and he was beaten to the floor, the final blow caving in his skull. The last of the cowards pressed himself against a wall, dropping his weapon and trying to speak in rough words. I was curious to hear him out but Orik had none of it, lancing a blast of power at the creature and ending its misery. We paused in that room a time, to investigate how such an odd-looking kobold came to be here, among goblins, and hoping we might find clues as to why this temple seemed so wrong, and what could have happened to send us so far off-course so quickly.
For myself, I took the hobgoblin’s armour, finding that it was not stained with blood as I had presumed, but that the hides which formed it had been magically infused with blood, to strengthen it and provide its power. A small time’s working on it allowed me to make a fair chestpiece of it for myself. I had long trained myself to stand against a storm of attacks, and this would be one more piece to help me improve on that strength still further.
We found one other useful thing, a ring of keys at the hobgoblin’s belt. While they may only be for the cells at the end of the room, hopefully they will also unlock a few more doors in this place. I do not think my simply shoulder-barging each one will work for very much longer!
TWO: A CALL UNHEARD
A thorough search of the cells turned up exactly what I had hoped for: a set of masterwork lockpicks. Useless to me, naturally; my hands are simply too vast for such delicate work. Locks are built by such small people that to someone of my size they’re simply a nuisance. A man who steals from his own tribe will be cast out, such punishment is all that is needed to secure belongings, so locks are fiddly and unnecessary. Aelar seemed able to make some use of them, though, so I handed them over without a second thought. Life among the wild has given me sharper senses than some, it seems, but that does not entitle me to everything I find. Besides, Aelar’s efforts can save me some shoulder strain. Give-and-take, that’s the true way.
Returning to the others, we found Yorroth talking with the tiny Kobold. He could interpret and return her squeaks as easily as other men speak clear words, but to my ears it was meaningless. Still, on her word our Dragonborn companion guided us through the remainder of the temple, past several obstacles we might otherwise have blundered into, and through a back way into a hidden chamber. Inside, we found a quivering blob of flesh which may once have been a goblin. The creature, realising it was outmatched, gave up immediately, but Yorroth was disgusted by such cowardice. He struck out with some kind of searing light, laying the creature low, and we hauled down the curtains surrounding us to charge the rest of its fellows.
We settled the first few quickly, but noises in the corridor alerted us. Yorroth and I rushed the door, slamming our shields together to form a solid wall against invaders. The goblins were pushing barrels towards us, and I settled my shoulders, expecting to have to withstand an explosive assault. From behind, however, we heard a voice snicker a high-pitched laugh, and three flaming crossbow bolts shot out past our heads. Each struck a barrel, setting off the explosions, and the result was a mass destruction. Hunkered down behind our shields, we didn’t take a scratch, but the corridor was decimated. As we picked our way through the mess, I caught sight of a hooded figure making off with some treasure. We had been promised the contents of the temple as reward for our efforts, and this figure had struck me as knowing more than we did. Whatever it had taken was likely the prize of the place, if not the Brand itself, and I was certain we couldn’t allow it to simply walk away with what it had taken.
Exchanging only a glance I was sure Yorroth had the same thought, and with the group safe for now we both charged off after the hooded figure, confident that we could handle it until the others caught us up. With my lighter armour and longer legs, I quickly outpaced my companion, but the stranger was faster still, easily leading us a merry dance through the temple before dashing up the stairs and seeming to vanish in the night beyond without a trace. Even with my wilderness experience I found nothing by which to track the figure, and for the moment there was no choice but to accept that, whoever it was, they were gone.
Once it was clear he couldn’t keep up Yorroth had returned to the others, and by the time I got back he’d explained a lot of information from the kobold, who seemed to have taken a real shine to him. The kobold easily guided us through the rest of the area, avoiding traps and enemies, until we reached a bizarre water trap. The kobold told us the water ‘bites’ anyone that touches it, so we resolved to fashion a bridge to reach a small island in the middle which held a number of intriguing items. I was cautious that the whole thing might be a trap, but we determined to try regardless.
With some careful axe work I hacked the torture table into a makeshift bridge and shifted it into place, careful not to touch the water with either myself or the bridge in doing so. Once that was in place, Aelar, as the nimblest and lightest of us, was chosen to go over. He nodded confidently, unconcerned at being so ‘volunteered’, and swiftly clambered across the bridge. On the other side he found a number of small items along with a shield that seemed to have some magical properties. Lifting any object caused the water to encroach up the shore towards him, however, and Aelar quickly reasoned that he could only take the contents of the island by not lifting any of it. Putting the other objects onto the shield and tying a rope around that, he walked back across and pulled his prize along behind him. We dragged the whole lot out of the room before picking any of it up, and congratulated ourselves on outwitting the trap. Yorroth took the shield, while the others gathered up a few potions and scrolls from the pile.
Around the next bend, though, we began to uncover the truth of the place. This was, inexplicable though it be, a temple to two different gods, each from a different race. This was practically unheard of, even to our two religious party members, but I simply chuckled at the bizarreness of those who set their faith in gods. Such creatures seemed as fickle and as vulnerable as mere mortals, at times, whereas the earth and the sky were truly eternal, and the storm comes and visits its will upon the land as it sees fit. Still, we cannot guess the intent of those who built this strange place.
Inside a crypt at the far end of the room we found a locked tomb. A scroll from the island allowed us to consult a mystic sage for help in solving the tomb’s riddle, and with that information we successfully cracked the puzzle and opened the tomb. Inside Karus claimed some chainmail and a light shield for himself, both inscribed with Azuth’s symbol, but the shield also had a map carved into it. We seemed done with this temple, with no sign of the Brand, and I had a sinking feeling in my gut that whoever that hooded figure had been, they’d made off with exactly what we’d been sent here to retrieve. We resolved to make camp for the night and plan our next move carefully. Where we go from here, I know not.
FIVE: THE CALL WAS A LIE
Much has befallen us in the last weeks. From the temple we struck forward to the camp of Irontooth, who had captured and controlled the goblins and kobolds of this region and was responsible for the raids disrupting trade in the area. We carved a way through his defences and took down the creature himself, allowing the locals to return to their former ways. Hopefully some balance of nature has been restored through that action, for to do it we had to cut down the parents of Yorroth’s kobold companion, and Irontooth himself slaughtered her sister in front of us as one final cowardly attempt to force us to leave. As if one life could balance the rest he was controlling, the fool. That the weakest fall for the greater good of the rest is a very fair trade.
From there we headed onwards in pursuit of the Brand, finally tracing it to a graveyard where a horde of undead rose up intent on destroying us. The others plunged in and soon found themselves in serious danger, knocked to the floor and ravaged by the horde’s continual attacks. Unleashing the storm within myself for the first time, I hurled myself into the fray, smashing aside several of the creatures as lightning flew from my axe, crushing a dog-like monster in a single swing and creating enough of a distraction that the creatures left Orik a moment, letting him release the healing power within him like a spring pouring out in all directions. The force of it finished off the weaker undead in one volley and buoyed the rest of our companions to their feet, allowing us to quickly finish the remaining foes. A close call, but one from which we persevered.
What came next was the true trial. Underground we found a next of scum serving an evil god, according to Aeral. I have no interest in the gods of men, but my companions insisted they would do evil work if left unvanquished. The men told us they sought to destroy Riatavin, but also to destroy the dragons in the region, and claimed that the woman who stole the Brand was now with them, the item itself having been offered up to their god. I had very little warmth towards Riatavin, being merely a useful place to find work while I restore myself in this region. Crossing those mountains alone had nearly killed me and it had taken several months to regain the health and the confidence to go out again, during which time I felt my connection to the wilds painfully dwindle. Out here I have been restored, however, re-finding the power to act as avatar of the storms again has renewed all confidence I had lost, and as such I no longer needed the city. It’s plight against dragons meant little to me, having earned such peril itself by relying on its walls too strongly, as though all the world could simply wane and vanish outside so long as the people there were safe and comfortable. The worshippers offered us a deal, information on the city’s defences in exchange for passage well away to the other side of the continent. A fresh start, and perhaps taking some of these helpful companions along with me, the offer was tempting, and in the end I told them what little I knew and they opened a portal for us. Yorroth refused, prefering to stay and fight dragons, and Aeral was unconscious having taken a violent beating before a parley had been called. Hefting him easily over my shoulder, I entered the portal with the rest of my party, and darkness enveloped us.
Apparently gaining such freedom so easily was all too naive, as we found ourselves ankle-deep in blood. After a few moments light flooded the huge chamber, and we found ourselves flanked by cultists and undead bound on destroying us. Yorroth, having been lead inside blindfolded, stood with one of the cultists, but as soon as he realised what was afoot he hacked at the ritual leader with his blade. Aeral rushed to join him while I charged the left flank alone, fighting through a pair of skeletal figures and facing off with a wight. The fight was long, and things seemed bleak as the skeletons continuously reformed and only the magical armour I had gained in the temple kept me on my feet by providing invulnerability at a crucial moment, the stone’s endurance of my people tripled by the armour as I withstood a hail of blows but still barely kept my feet. Orik climbed a stature, finding the Brand in its grasp and snatching away the rod as he leapt to the ground, and without it’s power the enemies weakened considerably. I held off my attackers long enough for Yorroth and Aeral to back their foe into a corner, the ritual he’d been casting finding him unworthy as tentacles tore forth and engulfed him, dragging him away to places unknown. The others rushed to aid me, and with the wight and its companions now so weakened they fell easily.
Our reward was a trove of weapons and items that had been ‘offered’ to this dark god. Orik took two useful-seeming magical items, Yorroth some new armour, while Aeral, Karus and I each found a new weapon. Mine had a simple pattern across the blade, like spider webs, and within it felt the power to do great things. How little I realised.
We rested, then began our escape, but soon found ourselves plunging into another fight, this time facing two men practically frothing at the mouth with rage while strange pink creatures hurled themselves at us, biting and slashing. Aeral cut down their leader with the first blow, but then found himself knocked unconscious by a counter-spell, his body rapidly borne away from us by a river of blood. The blood poured down a chasm in the centre of the room, no doubt to where we had just fought, more than sixty feet below us. He had no hope of surviving that fall even awake, and we rushed to fight a way through to him before it was too late. Yorroth and I held the line while Orik made a dash for it, but was cut off by another enemy. His distraction left a gap for me, however, and knowing I had to try I charged forwards, narrowly avoiding a sword swing at my ribs and rushing to save Aeral. I reached the hole in the floor before him, but two of the pink creatures leapt at me, their speed incredible, and battered me down the hole myself. Only a swift action saved me, snatching hold of the edge and holding myself there with one hand, but this left me powerless as Aeral’s body slumped over the side. I had one chance, to embed my new axe in his leg and hopefully haul him up that way. It might leave him horribly injured, and he might die anyway from the blood loss, but it was the only chance and I had to take it. I swung, eyes focused, desperate to land the connection I needed, but my strength got the better of me and I simply hacked off my friend’s leg as he went past me. I watched in horror for a few seconds until I heard the impact far below me, half a splash, half a crunch. I myself might have survived that fall, having fully recovered from my injuries, but unconscious and heavily wounded as he was, Aeral had no chance at all. I had failed to save him, and he was gone.
Looking upwards at the two creatures who had thus thwarted my efforts, my eyes narrowed as a rage overcame me. They were responsible and they tittered to themselves at their small victory even as my friends cut down their compatriots. These two would be mine, however, the full rage of the storm building within me to be hurled at them.
Just as soon as I wasn’t hanging over a dreadful drop!